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Summary: Customer What?: The honest and practical guide to customer experience by Ian Golding


Customer experience (CX) consultant Ian Golding delves deep into CX transformation, from fundamentals to maintaining momentum. Drawing on 24 years of consulting in multiple sectors, Golding cuts through assumptions and misconceptions – he recommends putting employees first, not customers, for example – with honesty, clarity and empathy. The book includes a long chapter on journey mapping and a fresh, practical perspective on personas. Golding’s advice is essential reading for CX leaders and those about to undertake transformation.


  • The business has to be ready before you implement a customer experience (CX) strategy.
  • To transform CX, start by gaining employees’ engagement and alignment.
  • Employees need to understand customers thoroughly in order to serve them well.
  • Senior leaders need authority and capabilities to lead the implementation.
  • A strategy statement will guide the implementation and build buy-in.
  • Journey maps help drive change by clarifying the customer relationship and spurring engagement in the transformation.
  • Personas illustrate how the customer journey varies for different customers.
  • Creating a road map will require prioritizing a handful of improvements that you can deliver on within one year.
  • As the transformation progresses, continue to focus on engagement and building a positive culture.

Book Summary: Customer What? - The honest and practical guide to customer experience


​The business has to be ready before you implement a customer experience (CX) strategy.

The business’s level of readiness will determine how easy or difficult you’ll find it to implement a CX transformation. A readiness assessment will reveal the organization’s receptivity to a sustainable, complete CX program. The assessment can also help you decide on an approach and pace for the implementation, as well as identify people who will support the initiative.

“Not every organization is ready to become customer centric – even if they say they are, or think they are.”

For a complete assessment, you’ll study four elements of readiness:

  1. Acknowledgment of CX’s role – Analyze whether the organization acknowledged CX management as playing an important role in performance.
  2. Awareness of drivers – Audit the level of awareness of CX drivers within the organization and their strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Commitment to action – Probe the level of commitment to action to improve those drivers, including willingness to make investments and allocate resources.
  4. Commitment to continuous improvement – Examine the level of commitment to embedding a program for continuous improvement of CX.

To transform CX, start by gaining employees’ engagement and alignment.

Customer centricity starts with the employees. People’s feelings about their work will affect their interactions with customers, and customers will remember how they’ve been treated. Bureaucracy, in particular, will spawn a negative culture and cause customers to feel dehumanized as employees enforce rules that seem to have no purpose. CX transformation will happen only if the culture of your organization aligns with the CX strategy.

“Every contribution counts. If even one link in your organizational chain is broken, it will show in your customer experience.”

Employee engagement holds the key to great CX. You’ll need to understand and build the levels of engagement at your organization. Engagement in turn serves an even greater need – for connections among employees. When strong, healthy connections exist throughout an organization, and when all employees know both their own and their colleagues’ roles, they can work together to deliver a seamless customer-centric service.

Employees need to understand customers thoroughly in order to serve them well.

To provide empathic, helpful service, employees need to know their customers – not just customers’ expectations but their feelings, perspectives, motivations and day-to-day lives as well. Encourage employees to purchase products and services from their own company so they’ll know what it feels like to be a customer. Where this isn’t possible, you’ll have to depend on customer insight methodologies. But never lose sight of your customers as complex, individual, emotional human beings.

“If you think you know your customers, you are probably wrong.”

To gain insights into your company’s customers, start by setting aside preconceptions – enter the process with an open mind. Then consider using methods such as the following:

  • Shadowing – Have non-customer-facing employees sit beside customer-facing employees or listen in on their calls.
  • Ethnography – Observe customers “in the wild” – in their homes, at work or in other locations – as they consider and make purchase decisions.
  • Technology – Consider using apps that allow customers to record video diaries or capture elements of their purchasing journey, or create an online community where customers can chat and you can learn about their lives and priorities.

Senior leaders need authority and capabilities to lead the implementation.

Responsibility for delivering a customer journey and the resulting CX lies with every person in the organization, not only leaders. But leaders provide clarity and shared objectives, facilitate collaboration, and ensure accountability. Leaders need their own readiness – the skills, understanding and practices necessary to the task of leading CX transformation, in areas such as cultural change, customer insight, experience design and measurement.

To lead, you must hold authority in your people’s eyes. Your authority can arise from your position, or you can borrow authority from an influential person. But the greatest influence comes from earned authority – which you build by knowing how the business operates, including how people do their work and make decisions. Pizza Hut CEO Jens Hofma embodies earned authority. Hofma thoroughly understands what his people do because he regularly takes on their roles himself by working as a server in a London Pizza Hut restaurant. As a result, Hofma possesses the knowledge and authority to lead continuous CX improvement.

“Deliver benefit early in the transformation journey. This will build belief and get the organization behind you.”

To lead a CX transformation, you’ll need empathy for customers, a desire to serve their best interests, and confidence in your ability to change the status quo. You’ll also need all the emotional qualities and capabilities that add up to emotional intelligence – as defined by psychologist Daniel Goleman – such as self-awareness, a positive outlook, organizational awareness and teamwork.

And you’ll need trust in your people. Employees need to feel safe before they’ll act on behalf of customers. Making sure people know you trust them and will support them when they say yes to customers’ needs will foster a sense of safety among employees. Avoid requiring people to apply rigid rules and processes. Encourage the organization to stop saying no and start saying yes.

A strategy statement will guide the implementation and build buy-in.

At any organization, CX evolves through three stages. CX begins as random experiences that meet only minimum expectations and then evolves to deliver consistent, intentional experiences that lead to increasing profits. Eventually, for some companies, CX becomes differentiated experiences that exceed customers’ expectations. To reach the level of differentiated experiences will take a company six to eight years and require long-term thinking and a high degree of alignment. Few businesses achieve this.

“The raw materials – people, culture, business model, resources and commitment – should always shape your approach.”

Strategy enables the organization to align day-to-day activities with clearly stated aspirations and enables measurement of progress. A clear strategy will engage stakeholders and create focus. Your strategy statement – a key tool in the implementation of transformation – should set out the organization’s mission and vision, identify business key performance indicators, and give a summary of the CX strategy. It should also include a road map for change and details regarding how the business will execute the road map. As you develop the strategy statement, collaborate with stakeholders. Aim to build authenticity across the organization: a genuine, trustworthy devotion to serving customers, employees and stakeholders.

Don’t overlook completing the strategy statement: It will serve as your North Star as you undertake and sustain the transformation. The strategy statement will serve as one of your three most useful tools in the transformation, along with journey maps and personas. Complete the road map and execution portion of the strategy statement by gathering data. You’ll need to measure three “voices”: the Voice of the Customer, which reveals how customers experience the business; the Voice of the Employee, expressing how employees feel about the company’s products, services and CX; and the Voice of the Process, which shows how business performance correlates with CX quality.

Journey maps help drive change by clarifying the customer relationship and spurring engagement in the transformation.

Customer journey maps tell you what’s happening with CX in the organization today. They serve many other purposes as well, such as revealing touchpoints, providing a central place to collect ideas, showing where you should focus improvement efforts first and facilitating communication. Treat the journey map as an opportunity for inclusive dialogues across the organization that will help unify people toward change and generate engagement.

“Until you actually change, amend, replace, redesign or improve a touchpoint in your customer journey, nothing will change for your customer.”

Visualize the customer journey as a ring, reflecting a cycle or loop in which customers continually reengage with the organization to meet repeating or ongoing needs and wants. If the journey feels linear, exploring ways to see it as a loop can suggest ideas for building relationships with customers. Identify the steps of the process by which customers move from need or want to achievement of their goals. Then add touchpoints for each step. Name the emotion customers will likely experience at each step. Next, overlay customer insights on the map. Obtaining them will require an exhaustive discovery process; use the research techniques of completing the customer journey yourself, shadowing, ethnography and technology. Seek to make the final map visually interesting enough to pique people’s interest.

Personas illustrate how the customer journey varies for different customers.

Personas – fictional representations of typical customers – can facilitate empathy, helping you understand customers’ perspectives on their journey. Personas can suggest ways to link the brand proposition to individual customers’ needs and wants. Well-designed personas can become like team members, contributing information and ideas as you develop and refine CX.

“A good set of personas…puts the power of your entire market behind your customer experience strategy. It’s like having an (unpaid!) expert in the room every time you want.”

To avoid creating stereotypes, base personas on data and insights, not demographics. For example, basing personas on age means you generalize characteristics across vast numbers of people based solely on the decade in which they were born. Instead, segment personas on the basis of customers’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Employ the same research methods that you use for helping employees gain insight into customers and for developing journey maps. Always create personas in cross-functional teams, so stakeholders will understand and accept them. And always remember personas aren’t real customers. Personas can serve as a valuable tool, but you must validate all assumptions by researching real customers.

Creating a road map will require prioritizing a handful of improvements that you can deliver on within one year.

Chart a road map by choosing key interactions to develop. These choices will always involve trade-offs. For example, to accommodate large numbers of commuters, the rail operators in the UK have chosen to redesign carriages to carry more people. They’ve widened doors and aisles, reduced the number of seats, and removed tables. As a result, more people have to stand, and there’s nowhere to set a cup of coffee. The rail operators clearly had to make tough choices, and not everyone will be pleased. Ideally, you’ll fix basics that are broken while continuing to meet customers’ expectations. In reality, you will have to choose priorities.

“The customer experience road map and the business road map need to be one and the same.”

Select the five most vital priorities by creating a table where you score all alternatives according to how much they will benefit employees, how much they matter to customers, and the organization’s level of capability to implement each. Select five high-scoring alternatives that together form a balanced program for change. Aim to select at least one priority that fixes a basic problem, at least one that will lead to exceeding customers’ expectations, and one or more that will make customer interactions memorable. Not choosing an alternative as a priority doesn’t mean you’ve taken it off the table. CX transformation will take at least six years, and every year, you’ll choose new priorities. But at any given time, five will give you plenty to do.

As the transformation progresses, continue to focus on engagement and building a positive culture.

After you’ve initiated the transformation of CX at your organization, your task will shift to maintaining momentum. Your role will include acting as an advocate for change and energizing people to adopt and align with the vision you’ve outlined. Ensure everyone in the company plays a part.

“Steer the strategy through, but make it belong to everybody.”

In the long run, maintaining customer centricity will depend on good governance – meaning people’s clarity about their roles and a framework that ensures accountability. And a positive culture will go a long way toward keeping the organization customer centric amid changes in the business, leadership or market.

About the Author

Ian Golding is a freelance customer experience consultant. With over 20 years in business improvement, Golding is a certified Customer Experience Professional and Customer Experience Specialist and certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. His experience includes consulting globally in multiple sectors, including pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, retail, technology and education.


“Customer What?” is a comprehensive guide that offers practical advice on how to improve customer experience in any industry. The book is written by Ian Golding, a well-known expert in the field of CX, and is based on his extensive research and experience working with various organizations. The book is divided into six chapters, each of which covers a different aspect of CX, including understanding customers, designing the customer journey, delivering exceptional service, measuring customer satisfaction, and creating a customer-centric culture.

The book is divided into four sections, each containing an overview of what needs doing, a set of practical activities and approaches to help you do it, and a story or two to illustrate your path. The sections are:

  • Section 1: The Fundamentals of Customer Experience. This section explains the basic concepts and principles of CX, such as what it is, why it matters, how it works, and who is involved. It also introduces the six competencies of CX: strategy, culture, measurement, governance, customer-centricity, and communication.
  • Section 2: Assessing the Current State of Customer Experience. This section guides you through the process of assessing your current CX performance and maturity, using various tools and methods, such as surveys, interviews, observations, journey mapping, voice of the customer, and benchmarking. It also helps you identify the gaps and opportunities for improvement in your CX.
  • Section 3: Designing the Desired State of Customer Experience. This section shows you how to design and deliver the desired CX for your customers, using techniques such as personas, empathy mapping, service blueprints, prototyping, testing, and feedback. It also helps you align your CX with your brand promise and values.
  • Section 4: Sustaining Customer Experience Focus. This section teaches you how to sustain and enhance your CX over time, by embedding it into your organizational culture and processes. It also helps you monitor and measure your CX outcomes and impacts, using metrics such as customer satisfaction, loyalty, retention, advocacy, and lifetime value.

Key Takeaways

  • Customer experience is not just about satisfaction: The book emphasizes that customer experience is not just about ensuring customers are satisfied with their interactions with a company. Rather, it’s about creating memorable experiences that leave a lasting impression and foster loyalty.
  • Know your customers: Ian Golding stresses the importance of understanding your customers’ needs, preferences, and pain points. This requires gathering data and insights through various methods, such as surveys, social media, and customer feedback.
  • Empathy is key: The book highlights the importance of empathy in delivering exceptional customer experiences. Companies must put themselves in their customers’ shoes and understand their perspectives to deliver personalized experiences.
  • Omnichannel is the future: Golding emphasizes the need for companies to provide seamless experiences across all touchpoints, including websites, social media, and physical locations. This requires a unified strategy and technology to ensure consistency and ease of use.
  • Continuous improvement is essential: The book stresses the importance of regularly gathering customer feedback and using it to improve products, services, and experiences. This requires a culture of continuous improvement and a willingness to adapt to changing customer needs.

Here is a brief review of the book:

Clear and Practical Approach:

  • Customer What? takes a straightforward and practical approach to the subject of customer experience.
  • Golding breaks down complex concepts and frameworks into easily understandable terms, making it accessible to readers regardless of their prior knowledge of CX.
  • The book provides actionable advice and step-by-step guidance for implementing effective CX strategies.

Comprehensive Coverage of CX:

  • The book covers a wide range of CX topics, including understanding customer needs, designing customer journeys, managing customer feedback, and creating a customer-centric culture.
  • Golding explores each aspect of CX in detail, providing real-life examples and case studies to illustrate key concepts.
  • Readers will gain a holistic understanding of CX and the various elements that contribute to a successful customer experience strategy.

Emphasis on Employee Engagement:

  • Golding highlights the critical role of employee engagement in delivering exceptional customer experiences.
  • He discusses the importance of aligning employee behavior with customer expectations and provides practical tips for fostering a customer-centric culture within organizations.
  • The book emphasizes the idea that engaged and empowered employees are more likely to deliver outstanding customer experiences.

Focus on Honesty and Authenticity:

  • One of the standout features of Customer What? is its emphasis on honesty and authenticity in customer interactions.
  • Golding stresses the importance of building trust with customers through transparent and genuine communication.
  • He encourages organizations to be truthful about their capabilities and limitations, as this builds credibility and enhances the overall customer experience.

Real-World Examples and Case Studies:

  • Throughout the book, Golding shares real-world examples and case studies from various industries.
  • These examples help readers connect theoretical concepts to practical applications, making the book more relatable and actionable.
  • The inclusion of diverse case studies enables readers to draw insights from different contexts and apply them to their own organizations.


  • Some readers may find that certain sections of the book could benefit from more in-depth analysis.
  • While the book provides a solid foundation for understanding CX, readers seeking advanced or specialized knowledge in specific areas may need to explore additional resources.

The book has received positive reviews from readers who praised its clarity, relevance, simplicity and usefulness. Some of the reviews are:

  • “A must read for anyone involved in CX. Ian’s book is full of practical advice, real life examples and useful tools. It’s easy to read and understand, and it will help you improve your CX skills and knowledge.”
  • “This book is a great introduction to the world of customer experience. It covers all the basics and gives you a clear framework to follow. It also has some great case studies and stories that illustrate the concepts. I highly recommend it.”
  • “Ian Golding has written a brilliant book that demystifies customer experience and shows how anyone can make a difference. He shares his insights and expertise in a clear and engaging way, with plenty of examples and tips. This book is a must for anyone who cares about customers.”

In conclusion, Customer What? The Honest and Practical Guide to Customer Experience is an excellent resource for anyone interested in improving customer experiences. Ian Golding’s practical approach, comprehensive coverage, and emphasis on honesty and authenticity make this book a valuable guide for organizations seeking to enhance their CX strategies. By providing actionable advice and real-world examples, Golding empowers readers to create meaningful and memorable experiences for their customers. Whether you are a business leader, CX professional, or simply interested in understanding the importance of customer experience, this book offers valuable insights and practical guidance.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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